A massive development that includes 1 1/2 miles of undeveloped lakeshore on Lake Minnetonka shifts into more public view beginning this week.
Developers want to transform 490 acres of forests, wetlands, rolling hills and farm fields in Minnetrista into 1,071 housing units in the next decade. It would boost the city's population by half, or 2,700 more people.
"It's probably the biggest development we've seen in the Twin Cities in the past 20 years," said Larry Blackstad, chairman of Three Rivers Park District, which owns regional parks on two sides of the land. "When it's built out, it'll change the character of the city and that end of the county."
Developers of the project, known as Woodland Cove, filed a preliminary plat on May 31, kicking off a busy summer of environmental reviews and public meetings. An open house in Minnetrista is scheduled for Monday evening, followed by a public hearing on June 27 before the western Hennepin city's planning commission.
The development at Hwy. 7 and Kings Point Road proposes 11 housing types, from custom lake homes to row townhouses and multifamily units.
It would include seven private parks and one public park, 5.4 miles of trails and 7.4 miles of sidewalks. It features a two-mile greenway corridor more than 200 feet wide and would link to Lake Minnetonka Regional Park on the east and Carver Park Reserve to the south.
The road system would include a bridge to lots on the land's northern peninsula and a roundabout on Hwy. 7 near one of the development's two main entrances.
Testing the market
Representatives of Woodland Cove declined several requests for interviews. Their documents describe "a planned neighborhood that has thoughtful design, integrates and respects the natural environment and provides meaningful connections to the parks and open spaces around it."
Jim Blakeway, a resident on Kings Point Road, said that he and many of his neighbors are worried about the increased traffic on Hwy. 7 and other roads and on the already-busy lake from the 117 boat slips that are part of the project.
Blakeway said that in general, the plan seems reasonable, but he's baffled by the timing. "It just seems kind of crazy at a time like this when there are so many unsold homes and properties that something like this is even in the works," he said.
Minnetrista senior planner Breanne Rothstein said the developer intends to build 99 units in the first phase of the project, including about nine of the most expensive custom lake homes and a mix of large, medium and small single family homes. Other phases would be started as market conditions dictate, at an expected rate of adding 100 units per year.
Rothstein said the city has "chosen to guide most of our development in this area to keep the rest of Minnetrista rural as a whole." The project meets the Metropolitan Council's density requirements for hookups to the huge metro wastewater treatment system.
Rothstein said that if Minnetrista approves the preliminary plat toward the end of September, work on streets, lighting, storm water, waste water and other elements could begin in 2012. Home building would start in 2013.
About 200 acres of the land along the lake's Halstead Bay have been owned by the family of the late business magnate Curt Carlson since the 1960s. No Carlson families have lived there, and Carlson Real Estate Co. was, at one point, considering subdividing the acreage into 13 large lake lots. After the Metropolitan Council sought denser development to support extending sanitary sewers to western Hennepin County, the company bought about 290 adjoining acres to devise a larger project.
The development team has slightly refined its concept plan first presented a year ago.
About a third of the project includes permanent open space on the 490-acre property, including nearly all of its 20 acres of wetlands and about half of an important maple-basswood forest. Planners reduced the number of dock slips from 140 to 117 after months of review and eventual approval by the Lake Minnetonka Conservation District.
It also needs permits from a number of agencies, including the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District. Steve Christopher, the district's regulatory program manager, said he has just begun to review whether the project follows rules for erosion control, flood-plain alteration, wetland protection, water-body crossings and storm-water management.
Water issues galore
The project also must pass muster with the city of Minnetrista, which is working closely with Three Rivers Park District to be sure that Woodland Cove does not degrade water in Lake Minnetonka or in the park system's nearby lakes and wetlands.
One main issue is the acres of roofs, parking lots and streets that will shed rain and melting snow onto surrounding land. Developments usually create ponds to store storm water, said John Barten, the park district's natural resources director, but Woodland Cove has engineered a system that will direct most of the water to dozens of infiltration basins where the water will sink into the soil and not sit in ponds or run off into lakes.
"They're trying to mimic the natural system that's in there right now," Barten said.
Another issue is whether more boats in shallow water near the development will churn up muck, recirculate phosphorus that causes algae and destroy important lotus beds and other sensitive plants. "It's not the number of boats per se, but how they're used, so there's a need to push the speed zone farther out," Barten said.
Blakeway said no one should be surprised that the land will be developed, but he's not looking forward to it.
"I like coming home and seeing turkeys and pheasants and deer and osprey," he said. "It's a really neat area, but the character of this will change."
Tom Meersman • 612-673-7388